ARC Review: Daughter of the Moon Goddess

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a novel inspired by Chang’E, The Chinese Moon Goddess. It follows her secret daughter, Xingyin, on an adventure once she leaves the moon to avoid been found by the Celestial Empire. This book is absolutely chock full of stuff happening – I was glued to it from a few chapters in to the end. It has big fairytale vibes, so if that’s your sort of thing, I’d definitely check it out! It’s like a more mature Six Crimson Cranes.

Star rating: 5 stars

Xingyin’s mother, the moon goddess Chang’E, was exiled to the moon for taking an immortal potion that wasn’t meant for her. She brought Xingyin with her secretly, but when Xingyin’s magic starts to break free, she must leave the moon to avoid being detected by the Celestial Empire. Xingyin finds herself in the Celestial Empire, right at the heart with the Emperor and Empress themselves. She must not reveal who she is, but do everything in her power to break the enchantment that keeps her mother tied to the moon.

Xingyin’s story spans many years. She makes herself strong, attracts attention from powerful individuals and fights various monsters throughout. The action is none stop, which combined with the lyrical writing makes for a thrilling story written with bags of style. I love Xingyin as a protagonist, she is both innocent and strong – I loved her big hearted nature. I also enjoyed her growing friendships with others, including the Crown Prince and her combat teacher, and the way she never forgot where she came from and what her roots are.

From the romance to the light politics, I pretty much enjoyed every element of this book. It even ended quite neatly, so I’m excited to see what happens in the final book of the duology! I have high hopes for more romance, more dragons and a whole lot of adventure for Xingyin! I recommend this book for fans of Six Crimson Cranes and Priory of the Orange Tree.

ARC Review: Why We Fly

Why We Fly is a cheerleading novel with some big issues at its centre. It follows the fallout after some high school cheerleaders take the knee at a football game through the eyes of a Black and a white protagonist, both cheerleaders on the same squad. I enjoyed all aspects of this book, from it’s realistic outcomes to its gritty, determined characters. If you are looking for a fast-paced YA novel that explores issues around racism and feminism then this will be a good book to pick up when it releases in October.

Star rating: 4 stars

Chanel ‘Nelly’ and Eleanor ‘Leni’ are two high school seniors with big ambitions. Both need cheerleading for their college applications – Nelly has big academic goals and Leni wants to make a good college cheerleading team. Both want their team to make it to a national cheerleading competition. Both Nelly and Leni have their battles – Leni is returning from a serious injury and concussion and Nelly is juggling all her academics and extra-curricular activities. When the cheerleading squad is inspired to take the knee at a football game, they have no idea how much it is going to change their lives and the way they are viewed.

I like how the authors chose to have protagonists of different race, just like they did in I’m Not Dying With You Tonight. I think this is such an excellent way of showing how people of different race are treated differently and how Black people are disadvantaged. Nelly is treated way more harshly for the team’s decision to protest than any of the white girls on her team. She’s also looked over for captaincy despite being technically the most capable and having the right leadership skills for the role. Leni has to go through her own process – she isn’t particularly aware of her privilege and I wish there’d been a few more pages taking her on more of a journey towards understanding how the team’s actions affected Nelly way more than the rest of them.

One of the things I loved about this book is the realistic way things worked out. From high school romance to the girls discovering the difference between a moment and a movement when it comes to activism, I think the book really hit a high note on what it’s like to be a teenager. The side characters were also intriguing, with the book showing a variety of parenting styles, and a range of friendships and relationships. I liked that romance wasn’t at the centre though there are elements of it throughout. I also thought it was good that it showed the difference between the respect the girls receive and the boys on the football team who are revered.

Overall Why We Fly is a great novel that has a number of important messages. It managed to integrate these messages with a fun story about cheerleaders with big ambitions, breaking high school stereotypes. I can highly recommend this book!

ARC Review: The Dating Playbook

I absolutely adored The Boyfriend Project so as soon as I received the ARC for The Dating Playbook I dove right in and fell in love all over again. This time the book focusses on Taylor (remember Samiah’s new friends from The Boyfriend Project? I’m so glad they are getting their own books!). So naturally, this book made me cry a lot for some reason and honestly I was so invested in Taylor’s journey. Farrah Rochon is definitely one of my favourite romance writers. And this one is a sports romance which always seem to capture my attention!!!

Star rating: 5 stars

Taylor thought going viral after her boyfriend Craig cheated on her with at least two other girls would be a huge benefit to her fitness business, but turns out the fame lasted less than the 15 minutes she was expecting and she saw no benefit. But at least she got two new friends out of it in Samiah and London, both successful women. Struggling financially, Taylor is at a loss. She knows so much and nutrition and fitness but no stable job will take her without a college degree. But when Jamal, an ex-NFL player turns up at one of her pop-up fitness classes, her life might change for the better. Jamal got seriously injured in his rookie year in the NFL, and hasn’t returned since. He’s ready to up his game, test out his healing knee and take his training to the next level, but only if he can do it without the public knowing he’s trying to get back on a big team. Seeing Taylor’s training style captures his attention and he fights to hire her as his secret trainer.

So there is no doubt in my mind that I absolutely adored Taylor’s character. She’s amazing at her job but her academic insecurities really hold her back in taking it to the next level. Working with Jamal gives her so much insight into herself and her learning troubles, and I loved how Jamal supported her through the acceptance of a learning disorder that is holding her back from succeeding but can be improved with proper adjustments. I kind of really needed this storyline right now and it still makes me cry thinking about it.

Jamal is also healing from the death of his best friend that he blames himself for. His whole motivations for trying to get back to the NFL is driven by wanting to support his and Silas’ family (and to prove everyone wrong who said he’d never return). Honestly Jamal’s journey was so unexpected to me and it was a really heart-warming read. I just really loved his eventual decisions about the whole thing, they were really mature and made me fall in love with his character that little bit more.

The romance between these two is super electric – they’re made for each other and definitely bring out the best in each other. Also love how both of them come around to admitting their mistakes and that they’re quite big on communication even if it takes a while. Mostly I was just impossibly happy for the both of them by the end of the book.

Overall, The Dating Playbook is an amazing follow up to The Boyfriend Project. I loved that it still had that positive female friendship at the front and centre, and I’m so excited for London’s book that releases next year. Just want to note that there is a lot of talk of food, nutrition and fitness in this book so if you’re not in the headspace for that I’d probably not read this for now.

Have you read any books by Farrah Rochon? I highly recommend this series, it’s really wholesome.

ARC Review: Under the Whispering Door

T.J. Klune has really got this wholesome books slap the hardest thing down, hasn’t he? Under the Whispering Door is just that kind of book. Ever wondered what happens after you die? This story has its own take on the idea. Mostly it’s about making the most of second chances, and that it’s never too late to change as a person and to turn things around. I love that hopeful message and I hope you do too when you pick this book up on it’s release date in September.

Star rating: 5 stars

Wallace Price is the definition of all work and no play. He’s a named partner at a law firm that he started with his college and quite literally doesn’t have time for anyone but himself. The opening chapter paints him in his worst light – cruel, unforgiving, a perfectionist and not an empathetic bone in his body. Two days after he fires an employee (ruining her life in the process), Wallace dies of a heart attack and finds himself in the in between. Guided by the reaper Mei and ferryman Hugo assigned to help him cross after death, Wallace refuses to accept that he’s no longer alive. But there’s something about the little tea shop that Mei and Hugo run, and the people he meets along the way, the will change Wallace forever.

Where do I even begin? This book is beyond wholesome. It’s a masterful portrayal of character development – it has to be to take a reader on Wallace’s journey with him. As the focal character, Wallace is instantly dislikeable at the start, kind of like Linus in The House of the Cerulean Sea but worse. He is the cruel to Linus’ ignorance. He’s angry and difficult when he first arrives at the tea shop, but Hugo knows what he is doing as a ferryman. Along with Hugo and Mei, Hugo’s grandfather, a lingering ghost like Wallace, is also clinging to the tea shop to take care of Hugo. Nelson is one of the funniest characters, providing some much needed comic relief in a book that has so much heartbreak and sadness at the centre.

The world-building is so unique, with the characteristics of the living and the dead, of the people who can interact with both, and the way the laws of the universe work. I liked the gentle explanations and the fact that just like the characters experiencing it, we never know the whole truth of what happens when a ghost chooses to move on beyond the door. Wallace learns to enjoy being at the tea shop, growing in character with the help of his new friends. The book definitely has a childlike innocence about it mixed in with the tough topics, but I wouldn’t recommend this one for teens the same way I would The House in the Cerulean Sea because it touches on some intense topics like suicide.

Overall, I loved Under the Whispering Door a lot. T.J. Klune really knows how to write a seemingly uninteresting character and make them fascinating to read about. If you liked The House in the Cerulean Sea then I think it’s very likely you’ll like this one too. Similar vibes, completely different story. Shout out to the dog, Apollo. He really is the goodest boy.

ARC Review: The Heart Principle

Woah I have a lot of feelings about this book. I really appreciate Helen Hoang writing books with autistic protagonists that all experience it in a different way. This book is very intense, with an awful lot of pain for the protagonists to get through. It is not an easy read, but I found myself drawn into the story and caring so much about Anna and Quan, and their individual journeys.

Star rating: 4 stars

Anna Sun got internet famous after she steps in for a famous violin player and completes a beautiful solo. But the pressure that comes with fame and catching the attention of composers made playing music a million times more difficult for her. She’s stuck playing the same song on repeat, starting from the beginning every time she makes a mistake, tortured by the desire to perfect it. Anna has been going to therapy, and between her therapist and herself they realise she is autistic, not that her family are supportive of the revelation. When Anna’s boyfriend suggests they have an open relationship, Anna is upset but decides to have one night stands, because if Julian can, why can’t she?

Enter Quan, the brother of Khai and cousin of Michael from Helen’s other books. Recovering from cancer hasn’t been easy for him psychologically, but he’s ready to get back out there in the dating game. Anna catches his attention on a dating app and the two hit it off with their love of nature documentaries. But both are anxious about sexual intimacy with each other, so their one night stand desires take a few hits.

I loved that Helen brought in the modern terminology with respect to autism – I was worried at the beginning that she would be using outdated terms for the whole book. Anna defies the stereotypes perpetuated by the likes of characters like Sheldon Cooper. Apart from music, the other big challenge for Anna is when her father becomes seriously ill and she has to help her mother and sister take care of him. Understandably, this has an extreme impact on Anna’s mental health and her family, particularly her older sister, only exacerbate the problems she’s facing by not understanding and pushing Anna too far. Julian also brought out a lot of anger in me. He’d been using Anna for so long because she was so attentive to his needs and he knows she would do anything for him. I loved that Quan could show her what a positive relationship could look like, and they both learned intimacy and to trust again.

Overall this was an amazing book that tackles a lot of serious issues. I did feel like the ending was a little rushed through a series of flash forwards, but get that the book was probably long enough already! I loved Anna and Quan together. A neat end to this trilogy of romance novels, but it definitely isn’t one to read if you want a fluffy love story.

ARC Review: Certain Dark Things

I am beyond excited that this book was given a new lease of life by re-publication because it’s absolutely fantastic. A combination of a gripping plot and some of my favourite characters ever written made this a huge hit for me. Just weeks after praising Velvet was the Night, Certain Dark Things is now my favourite Silvia Moreno-Garcia book. I am here for this unique take on vampires in an alternative Mexico City!

Star rating: 5 stars

Atl is a blood-drinking vampire on the run from a different species of vampire after they killed her family. She has entered Mexico City, a vampire free zone where she has to look over her shoulder in every moment in order to not get caught. There she meets Domingo, a young man growing into his adulthood. Domingo grew up on the streets and hasn’t had an easy life, but appreciates every good thing that happens to him and loves music. When he and Atl meet you couldn’t put two more different people (lol and vampires) together. But the two have to get Atl out of the country so she can escape those who pursue her, including investigator Ana Aguirre, a cop with vampire experience, and Nick, a vampire from the family who killed Atl’s relatives.

So I am completely obsessed with the dynamic between Domingo and Atl. Domingo is such a cinnamon roll despite being roped into street crimes since he was young. The guy gives his entire heart to Atl despite knowing she’s a vampire and could kill him in an instant. Atl takes him on as her Renfield, a human assistant to a vampire, despite knowing her family would disapprove of it. Atl is the grumpy to Domingo’s sunshine, she tries everything to not have any emotional connection to Domingo but he does everything he can to change that with his unstoppable caring nature. I love that this book is just a snapshot of Domingo and Atl’s lives but it packs in so much connection and really looks at what it means to be human.

The plot focusses on Nick and Rodrigo searching for Atl, and how Atl and Domingo avoid them. There are fights, there are skirmishes, there are some really tense moments. I also really liked Ana, the detective also searching for the vampires. All of these points of view gave so many perspectives for a relatively short novel, I was blown away by the depth achieved in less than 300 pages. Shoutout to Atl’s modified dog, I love him a lot.

Overall this is definitely my favourite vampire book. The ending couldn’t have been more perfect in all its bitter-sweetness. Love, love, love!!!! Silvia Moreno-Garcia nailed the character connections and I am hear for it.

ARC Review: The Last Graduate

Can’t believe I got my hands on this book, thanks Netgalley and Random House. Naomi Novik destroyed me with this book, I don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next one. It builds on the foundations of A Deadly Education and throws our girl El into a new role in the Scholomance beginning right after the end of A Deadly Education. I was so curious to see where this plot would go, and wasn’t disappointed.

Star rating: 5 stars

In A Deadly Education, El went from school loner to forming a tight alliance with her new friends Aad and Liu, feeling wanted for the first time in her life. She also attracted the attention of school hero Orion and the two formed a weird friendship / relationship. The Last Graduate builds on these relationships as El and the crew enter their senior year and work their way up to their own graduation, facing a hoard of mals down in the graduation hall to escape the school and head back into the real world.

El goes from outcast to a key player in the senior’s escape plan, much to their frustration. Alliances grow and enclave politics come even more into play, all while El navigates a nasty academic schedule and protecting the new freshmen she shares a period with. The plot hints at enclave drama in the outside world which makes me so excited for the next book, that hopefully will widen the world-building more outside of the Scholomance itself. At the end of A Deadly Education El’s parentage is revealed to the rest of the class – I was expecting this to come into the story a little more than it did so that was a bit of a surprise to me.

Both El and Orion’s character journeys were exceptional in The Last Graduate. Both are wonderfully complex individuals and their dynamic is definitely one of this book’s strengths. In some ways, El has become the centre of attention while Orion is feeling a bit empty when there are few mals to protect others from. They grow closer romantically, and I appreciated the way their first experiences of intimacy was realistic.

Anyway, this book has twist after twist and reveal after reveal, and warning it ends in a massive cliffhanger that I’m very angry about (haha). It’s hard to write a review without ruining everything so I think I’m going to leave it here, and wait impatiently for book 3. If this is how I feel after book 2….the next one is going to end me and reading forever. I still want to know so many things!!! I want answers!!!

ARC Review: Velvet was the Night

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books have been a bit hit and miss for me in the past but I can safely say that this one was totally awesome. I’ve never read a noir before so I was going in cold, but found the story so gripping! It’s set in 1970s Mexico, naturally a period of history I know nothing about (like most periods of history to be honest), so I learned a lot. Loved the blunt writing style, loved the characters and loved the mystery.

Star rating: 5 stars

Velvet was the Night follows two characters who appear to be a little bit lost in life. Elvis is a goon in a squad called the Hawks. He’s not really happy being a criminal – he hates violence and loves music, but there doesn’t seem to be another place for him in the world. Maite is a legal secretary who lives for romance comics. She lives alone, feels plain and uninteresting and is constantly reminded that she is 30 and unmarried. But her somewhat uneventful life takes a turn for the chaotic when she agrees to feed her neighbour Leonora’s cat. When Leonora disappears, Maite and Elvis’ stories become intertwined as they both look for the lost art student.

So, let’s start with Maite’s character. I LOVED her a lot. She’s a seemingly average person working at a job she doesn’t really like, with dreams of breaking the monotony that she never has the energy to achieve. When Leonora disappears, Maite doesn’t really have to get herself involved but ends up drawn into this world of goons, government agencies and Russian spies, filled with danger and suspense. For someone introverted and quiet, she handles it all surprisingly well, and I view her as a character with quiet steel in her. I also found myself relating to Elvis, doing this job that doesn’t fit him because he lacks choices. Both characters are romantic and have a soft-spot for music, which draws Elvis to Maite even before she knows who he is. I found having these two perspectives so interesting – the characters felt very real to me which is no mean feat in a 300 page novel with as much plot as this one has.

OK, so not going to lie, the big mystery is set around these photos that Leonora supposedly has, and I did guess what it was about. But this didn’t take away my enjoyment from the story, there were plenty of other strange twists to keep me intrigued. There is a whole cast of side characters and it is difficult to work out who Maite can trust. I was shocked on reading some of the history after I finished the book – some of the conspiracy style events actually happened. Such a dark period of time for Mexico.

Overall, this was a thrilling read where relatable characters are thrown into extraordinary circumstances. I loved the blunt writing style, the pace, the tension – all of it was excellently crafted. Never expected I’d like a book about spies and goons but here we are. Silvia does such a great job with the imagery of the whole thing, I think it would make for such an exciting TV show.

ARC Review: Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance

So I ended up in a bit of a Kathak dancing YouTube hole after reading this book – what a beautiful art form. I love books that introduce me to new things. Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance is a lovely YA story about two teens from completely different backgrounds who enjoy dancing. For different reasons, both Radha and Jai are a bit lost and I liked the way this united them if a little unexpectedly. I enjoyed the introduction to a new culture in a similar way to the way I did with A Pho Love Story. If you like YA stories with interesting characters that span outside of the teenagers then you will probably like this too.

Star rating: 4 stars

At the beginning of the book Radha is on the verge of becoming a world Kathak dancing superstar, but a close family betrayal leads to her dropping out of the competition and becoming an outcast in the USA Kathak community. Moving to New Jersey, she enrols in a new performing art school in hope to escape her past. There she meets Jai, a talented teenager with a passion for dance and medicine – though tight family funds mean medical school isn’t really on the cards for him. There’s a slim chance of winning some money through a regional Bollywood dance competition, but with the loss of the team choreographer it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Jai’s team with qualify…that is until Radha is convinced to choreograph to get her out of performing herself.

I loved the dance elements of this story. It gives me joy to read about characters that have such a passion for their hobbies. Radha has a difficult relationship with dance, mostly because her whole life she has been pushed to be the best by her mother who used to dance Kathak herself. The two have a strained relationship because of it. Radha also suffers from anxiety both due to stress and performing, hence her reluctance to ever perform again after dropping out of the major competition before the finals. Jai wants nothing more than to become a Doctor but his strong loyalty to his family means he is all set on helping them with the family restaurant. Radha’s choreography skills give him a new hope that extra funds might be achievable, but he knows unless she chooses to dance the team isn’t quite good enough. Their teacher has a big impact on both of their lives and it was good to see that she cared about her students. I did think that Jai’s family connection to the Director was a little strange, though.

The book isn’t without its teenage angst, and there was some very realistic drama between its central protagonists. But I liked that it was therapy positive and that both characters went on a little bit of a journey of self-discovery with the help of each other. One of the trickiest themes was the difference in wealth between Radha and Jai but I thought the author addressed it well.

How did I forget to mention the food? Part of Radha’s healing process involves her connecting with her father’s side of the family. She learns to cook with the help of family members she had lost touch with and I really enjoyed this element of the book. The book is integrated with recipes which was such a nice touch.

Overall, Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance is a great book with a lot of depth. I enjoyed learning about new cultures throughout. I think if you like YA romance then you’ll really enjoy this story – I found it really touched my heart.

ARC Review: While We Were Dating

I was so excited to get my hands on the next Jasmine Guillory book and While We Were Dating didn’t disappoint. The best romance novels are the ones that make me laugh and make me emotional, and this one definitely ticked that box. The central couple really felt like they were made for each other and I couldn’t help but root for them, even though it was frustrating at times! It’s a cute spin on the movie star and ordinary person trope, if you like that kind of thing then definitely pick this book up!

Star rating: 4 stars

Ben Stephens is working in advertising. When his co-workers have a delayed flight, he and his assistant have to give a big pitch to a large tech company. Ben’s not worried – he thrives when presenting and knows his stuff inside and out having done most of the work. But then the talent starring in the ad turns up unexpectedly and it’s an absolutely gorgeous actress, Anna Gardiner. Ben nails his presentation, even after his co-workers turn up and interrupt. Anna is so impressed that she convinces the tech company to take on his company, as long as Ben is the lead executive.

Ben and Anna bond as they work together on set of the ad shoot. Anna is impressed by Ben’s politeness, attention to detail and care for her. Ben is completely enchanted by Anna as they grow closer over the course of the first half of the book. When Anna’s manager sees their chemistry, he suggests Anna fake dates him to increase her publicity so she will be cast as the star in a new movie. Anna, wanting to move on from a couple of terrible years, agrees.

I loved both of these characters a lot. Ben is actually really mature for a guy with a reputation for playing the field – he’s been in therapy for a while and isn’t afraid to tell people, he’s really thoughtful when it comes to Anna, always putting her needs first whether it be to escape the paparazzi or drive her 7 hours in an emergency. Ben has an intuitive understanding of what it’s like for Anna to be famous – he empathises rather than judges. Anna is not your stereotypical superstar, she came to fame rather quickly which has led her to be guarded and anxious. What liked about Anna is even though she is ambitious and determined to get the roles she wants, she doesn’t throw people under the bus to get there. Mental health is a big focus for both characters and I loved the positive approach to therapy and speaking out about it.

There were some parts of the plot that made me uncomfortable, but most were resolved in a way that I was happy with. I really don’t like it when characters lie to each other but fortunately they realised in time that what they were doing was wrong. Both Anna and Ben have strong characterisation so their decisions were on the whole very believable. Mostly, I was just happy to enjoy a cute romance between two characters who clearly thought the world of each other.

Overall, While We Were Dating is cute, funny and a great take on the fake dating trope. I liked the central couple mostly for their honesty and the way they dropped their personas around each other. I think if you like romance novels, especially ones where the characters have a bit of depth to them, then this will be a good recommendation for you!